There is nothing magical about telepathy; it is merely one of those faculties our ancestors developed to a certain point before discarding it in favor of something more reliable, like answering machines. I had never experienced it in anything but the most atrophied form-Chanya and I were occasionally telepathic, usually reading each other’s minds with regard to things that didn’t matter much; I had never seen anything like this.
For a start the stupa had changed color. It was black. The eyes were an intense, angry red; a great, exaggerated burst of enraged lightning was emerging from the steeple; it was night; a bloated full moon hung in the eastern sky; and, weirdest of all: nothing was happening. I mean, there was no movement. I was looking at a mental painting, an internal snapshot which Tietsin had transferred to me. Later, once the initial amazement had subsided, I would penetrate to a deeper and still more disturbing meaning: this was how Tietsin saw Buddhism, the world, life. Or, you could say this was a picture of his soul he was showing me.
The moment evaporated, the sun came back out, the stupa was a brilliant white again and surrounded by pilgrims in burgundy robes and tourists in shorts and sandals and jolly souvenir shops, and Tietsin was staring at me with that curious look on his face. “Interview over?” he asked with exaggerated courtesy. “Let’s take a stroll. We’ll be like spies in those Cold War movies who have to conduct their negotiations in open places where there are no microphones and anyone following us would be conspicuous.”
I spared him a wild-eyed glance as I followed. “Would you mind telling me how you did that? I mean, excuse me, but for a moment just then you took over my whole mind.”
He shrugged. “Blame my meditation master. I was a star student before I disrobed. There was stuff he showed me that shouldn’t really be shared with a teenager. To this day I don’t know if he passed on those advanced initiations because he thought I would be a lama, or because he knew the Chinese were coming and there was no time left for niceties, or because he was the kind of master who didn’t give a shit, which is supposed to be the best kind. Obviously, for whatever reason he felt he had no choice but to risk my sanity.” He gave me a quick glance. “Nothing is ever as simple as it seems. Come, let us make merit.”
I followed his uneven gait around the stupa, spinning the prayer wheels as we went. He had a specific technique, a professional’s handiness with the brass. I was less adept.
After the first nine wheels, Tietsin said, “Whoever is angry, harbors ill will, is evil-minded and envious, whose views are delusive, who is deceitful, he is to be known as an outcast.”
I tried to remember where I had heard that before. Surely it was nothing less than the Vasala Sutra? I said, “Whoever destroys life, whether bird or animal, insect or fish, has no compassion for life…”
“Whoever is destructive or aggressive in town and country and is a known vandal or thug…”
“Whoever steals what is considered to belong to others, whether it be situated in villages or the forest…”
“Whoever, having contracted debts, defaults and when asked to pay, retorts, ‘I am not indebted to you’…”
“Whoever is desirous of stealing even a trifle and takes such a thing, having killed a man going along the road…”
“Whoever commits perjury either for his own benefit, for that of others, or for the sake of profit…”
“Whoever has illicit affairs with the wives of his relatives or friends, either by force or through mutual consent…”
“Whoever does not support his father or mother, who are old and infirm, being himself in a prosperous position…”
“Whoever strikes or abuses by words either father, mother, brother, sister, or mother-in-law…”
“Whoever being asked for good advice teaches what is misleading or speaks in obscure terms…”
“Whoever having committed an offense wishes to conceal it from others and is a hypocrite…”
“Whoever having gone to another’s house and taken advantage of the hospitality there does not reciprocate in like manner…”
“Whoever deceives a priest, monk, or any other spiritual preceptor…”
“Whoever abuses by words and does not serve a priest or monk coming for a meal…”
“Whoever, being enmeshed in ignorance, makes untrue predictions for paltry gain…”
“Whoever exalts himself and despises others, smug in his self-conceit…”
“Whoever is a provoker of quarrels or is avaricious, has malicious desires, is envious, shameless, and has no qualms in committing evil…”
“Whoever insults the Buddha or his disciples, whether renounced ones or laymen…”
“Whoever not being an arhat pretends to be one, he is indeed the greatest rogue in the whole world, the lowest outcast of all…”
“Thus have I exposed those who are outcasts…”
“One does not become an outcast by birth, one does not become a Brahmin by birth. It is by deed that one becomes an outcast, it is by deed that one becomes a Brahmin.”
The celebrated sutra had taken us one half turn of the stupa. We had started in the west, I suppose because Tietsin wanted to finish in the east. He was silent for the whole of the second turn of the stupa, then he said, as he spun the wheels with particular vigor, “I guess we have a deal.”
“I guess. How much can you ship?”
“Our movement needs forty million dollars. Whatever will get us that sum, we’ll ship.”
“Your movement? Is it political?”
“Sure. We’re going to invade China.”
He stopped short, as if the question surprised him. “With the inexorable power of Tantra, of course.”
I assumed this was some kind of macabre Tibetan joke; we were talking, after all, about a Communist republic which suppressed religion wherever it could, so I focused on the practical issue. “How can you do what no one else can do and export so much at one time?”
“Contacts and know-how. The stuff is shipped raw from Afghanistan into Waziristan, that is to say tribal Pakistan, where it is processed. From there it is moved to Ladakh, which used to be known as Greater Tibet, all under our supervision. People forget, Buddhists were active in that part of the world for a thousand years before Mohammed. Our contacts predate Islam. From Ladakh we ship it directly into Chinese-occupied Tibet. That’s the key. Tibet is mostly pure emptiness, and anyway our people are the only ones who can tolerate the climate-the Chinese all get very frail at that altitude, especially when stationed outside of Lhasa, where there are no hospitals and no oxygen bottles. We have total free rein. No one can stop us.”
“Does the Dalai Lama know?”
Here Tietsin stopped. It was the first time he had frowned at me. “Of course not. His Holiness is the greatest living Tibetan. Actually, he is the greatest living human being, he is the incarnation of Avalokiteshvara, but his mission is not to save Tibet. He has invaded the world instead. Anyway, he has said he will not reincarnate, or if he does it will not be in Tibet. Do you understand what that means?”
“You and your movement are left to defend it on your own?”
“No, we’ve already lost it. I and my movement are going to take it back on our own. From under the noses of two billion Chinese.”
“How many lifetimes will it take?”
“That is the only unknown in the whole equation. It is also irrelevant.”
My next question, obviously, involved the sensitive issue of morality. However worthy the cause, Tietsin was involved in shipping poison in bulk. I didn’t need to ask it. He said, almost apologetically, “I follow my dharma. That’s all I can tell you. At the end of the day I am is an unfathomable mystery.”
We had come to a stop, our three and one half turns of the stupa were complete. We had landed in the east. As we shook hands and he gripped mine with those two fingers, Tietsin said, “We’ll ship it to any address in Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, or Burma. We’ll talk about offshore bank accounts nearer the time. We prefer to use Lichtenstein.”
I was about to take my leave, but those two fingers of his were pressing into my palm, refusing to let go until I looked into his eyes. Naturally, he had one more spectacular little trick to play that day. I saw it again, in each of his eyes this time, in perfect miniature clarity: the black stupa, the lightning, the rage.
“Nice meeting you,” Tietsin said, and turned to make another tour, spinning the wheels as he went.
I should have let him go, but instead, in my ignorance, I stared after him, willing him to come back. So he did. Now he was standing in front of me again, rolling his eyes back, as if he hated having to preach but felt he had no choice. “There’s only one real instruction. Forget the Eightfold Path if it doesn’t apply to your situation. Be one of those who travel to the Far Shore. The Buddha doesn’t give a broken alms bowl how you get there, just do it before it’s too late. There isn’t a lot of time left. That’s all I can tell you.”
Then he was gone.